Japanese optimism for nuclear disarmament has dwindled following recent events, including the ending of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty.

Their disappointment appears to be compounded because they held high hopes when U.S. President Barack Obama pledged to work toward a world without nuclear weapons.

Frank Rose served as both assistant secretary of state for arms control, verification and compliance as well as deputy assistant secretary of state for space and defense policy under Obama.

Now a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, Rose was asked about recent developments regarding nuclear weapons under the administration of U.S. President Donald Trump.

Excerpts of the interview follow:

Q: Former President Obama won the Nobel Peace Prize for seeking a world without nuclear weapons, but such a world has not materialized. As one of the Obama administration officials in charge of arms control, what are your thoughts on that?

Rose: The president said, “We’ve got to take pragmatic steps to create the conditions for a world without nuclear weapons.” But he also in the same speech said, “This may not happen in my lifetime.”

And secondly, “As long as nuclear weapons exist, the United States will maintain a safe, secure and effective deterrent to protect the United States and our allies.” The Prague speech was a very carefully crafted speech, but unfortunately, people read what they wanted to read into the speech.

Q: As the only people that had atomic bombs dropped on them, many Japanese have been deeply disappointed just because they started to have hopes from the Obama speech. What’s your view on that?

A: The majority of the Japanese public is of the view we need to reduce and ultimately eliminate nuclear weapons.

That said, I think fundamentally we misjudged the security environment. What really drove the nuclear reductions in the 1990s was the collapse of the Soviet Union and Russia’s subsequent financial difficulties.

China and Russia have done major modernizations of their nuclear forces.

We need to be realistic. I think we have returned to an era of great power competition.

We’re going to have to manage that competition, especially with regards to nuclear weapons and other strategic capabilities.

Q: But as a nuclear superpower, shouldn’t the United States play a leading role in working toward reducing the number of nuclear weapons in the world?

A: I think in the last 25 years, we’ve been too focused on reducing the numbers of weapons and not on enhancing a stable deterrence with the objective of preventing miscalculations. My No. 1 priority is preventing nuclear use. And if we don’t reduce a single additional nuclear weapon, but we don’t have a nuclear detonation, that’s success.

Q: How do you assess the new nuclear posture review released by the Trump administration calling for strengthening the U.S. nuclear deterrent?

A: I don’t agree with the Trump administration on many issues, but one issue I do agree with them is that we have returned to great power competition with Russia and China. And to successfully deter Russia and China in this new era, we need to modernize the U.S. strategic nuclear deterrent.

Q: How do you assess President Trump’s policy toward North Korea?

A: There really was not much preparation for these meetings (between Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un). I have a hard time seeing the North Koreans giving up their nuclear weapons because fundamentally it’s Kim Jong Un’s ultimate insurance policy for regime survival.

Q: President Trump has frequently expressed dissatisfaction with the Japan-U.S. Security Treaty. Can Japan continue to trust being under the U.S. nuclear umbrella?

A: If Japan were attacked by another country, I believe the United States would meet its commitments and obligations of the treaty. But the more you publicly call those commitments into doubt, the less weight they have over time. And that’s a concern that I have.


Kenji Minemura was a visiting scholar at the Fairbank Center for Chinese Studies at Harvard University and then worked as the Chief Foreign Affairs Correspondent in Washington, D.C. He also previously worked as a correspondent in Beijing.